Monday, April 29, 2013

#Slice of Life 2013 Unplug and Read

This week (April 29th-May 6th) is unplug week!  It's not turn off the TV, it's "unplug" week!

When I was growing up, there were only two electronic devices in the house, one 45 rpm record player and one small TV.  Yet, my mom was often heard saying, "Turn off those I Love Lucy reruns!"

When my own kids were growing up, the record player had morphed into stereos and boom boxes and the TV was bigger and filled with more temptations such as Jerry Springer! Yet, our antennae kept the cable networks at bay and, while it was not a popular stance, video games were outlawed!  Our family computer sat in the living room to be shared by us all!  (There was lots of moaning and groaning at our house!)
Unplug! Artwork by Bob Staake, author of BLUEBIRD.  Celebrate Screen-free week: April 29th – May 5thToday, our homes are ambushed with hundreds of channels (not that there is much worth watching) and music streams endlessly from multiple devices.  There are laptops, tablets and phones filling our hands and minds at every moment of they day.  There are more electronic games than I can even count!  We have a level of connectedness with each other and the world that was unimaginable not too long ago and it would take quite a while to "unplug" all of our technology!  While technology is not going away, there is one thing that has been constant through the years, the power of a good book! 

So, take that book you've been wanting to read off the shelf or download something on that Kindle, but do your best to unplug everything else this week, as we focus on the enduring power of a good book and enjoying the warm spring days! 

I'll let you know how I do next week! 

Sunday, April 28, 2013

The Wappingers Derby

Participants paddle at the Wappingers Creek Water Derby on Saturday.Participants paddle at the Wappingers Creek Water Derby on Saturday.What were you doing on Saturday morning?
I'm not sure what YOU were doing, but while I was putting the finishing touches on a First Communion veil for one of my nieces, some of my family were out on the cold, dangerous, rocky Wappingers Creek embroiled in a battle to be the fastest to traverse the "rapids" and make it to the finish line!  Part of me wonders what part of them determines this to be fun; however, the rest of me wanted to join them in their battle to defend the family name and make it upright to the finish line.  Over in the green canoe is Emily,  She's a multi sport athlete!  Over there is the red canoe is my Godson, Nick.  He must be inspired from a higher power than me as he drove HIS canoe to a second place finish!  Godspeed.

CCSS: Close Reading Through Infographics

I start many mornings surfing to some Twitter inspired link like this

Since I am in a "close reading" frame of mind these days, I read the infographics a little more closely than I normally read.  I admit, I usually skim and scan and often miss many details - even in emails.  I suspect many readers (of all ages) do the same!   Then, I decided I needed to write about close reading and CCSS so I will call this Close Reading Part II

And then, in the quiet of the early morning, energized by fresh coffee, I had a bit of an "ahha" moment.  Infographics is certainly not a "traditional" text format but it really does support close reading as it makes you want to read and reread to clarify thinking, main ideas and details.  It might play a big part as we move towards the CCSS as readers and writers across all content areas!

So then, I looked into  understanding infographics a bit more closely over at Wikipedia and found "infographics  can improve cognition by utilizing graphics to enhance the human visual system’s ability to see patterns and trends. The process of creating infographics can be referred to as data visualization, information design, or information architecture." 

I then looked into creating a infographics at this site  and over here   I bookmarked and decided to follow Randy Krum, who appears to be a guru in this field.  While I must admit it's appears to be a scary new visual literacy, I am going to give it a try (after my cut back on technology week)!  I suspect kids will take to it like ducks to water!


Saturday, April 27, 2013

CCSS: Close Reading

The Common Core Standards talk about close reading.  I've been thinking of doing a workshop this summer on close reading and thus I have been thinking about them.  Here is a some of what I have found and my "not so profound" parallel to household cleaning!  I'll call this Close Reading: Part I

Close Reading is

Reading analytically
Studying meaning thoroughly
Reading and rereading methodically
Understanding central ideas and supporting details
Reflecting on the meanings of words and sentences
Thinking about the order of ideas
Thinking about ideas over the course of the text
Understanding of the text           

How is it different?
In the workshop model, we focus on learning to be readers through modeling strategies and scaffolding practice.  We use whole group mini lessons, guided practice, strategy groups, conferences  and independent practice with "just right" books as means to support strong reading. 
In Close Reading, we can use all those structures; however, our content and focus shifts to include more folktales, legends, myths, fables, classic short stories, poetry, plays, biographies, and primary-source materials. 
How do we do it?

Kids need to be able to do this "close reading" independently and in the primary grades; however, the road to close reading is not easy.  While some "close reading proponents" are suggesting we need more direct teaching, I think we must learn from Reading Workshop models and continue to scaffold and guide children with questions that will allow them to think more deeply about a text than they might do when reading on their own. Ultimately, they need to be able to ask themselves the questions that shape what we are calling close reading. 

Nancy Boyles, in Educational Leadership (2013) proposed these questions:
  • What is the author telling me here?
  • Are there any hard or important words?
  • What does the author want me to understand?
  • How does the author play with language to add to meaning?
  • Who is speaking in the passage?
  • Who seems to be the main audience?
  • What is the first thing that jumps out at me? Why?
  • What's the next thing I notice? Are these two things connected? How? Do they seem to be saying different things?
  • What seems important here? Why?
  • What does the author mean by ______? What exact words lead me to this meaning?
  • Is the author trying to convince me of something? What? How do I know?
  • Is there something missing from this passage that I expected to find? Why might the author have left this out?
  • Is there anything that could have been explained more thoroughly for greater clarity?
  • Is there a message or main idea? What in the text led me to this conclusion?
My Parallel
Back in 2001, I probably would have called what I am writing now a "connection" but now it is a parallel to life experiences!

I propose "close reading" might be to "regular old reading" what "deep cleaning" is to "a quick clean".  Let me try to explain, but please don't judge me too harshly!
Usually on Saturday morning, I clean the kitchen and bathrooms and then run the vacuum quickly in the areas of our house we see and use the most now that we are "empty nesters."  Every month or so, I do the hallway, extra bathrooms and our bedroom (I never really see that space as it's dark when I leave and dark when I get back!).  A couple of times a year, I dust walls, corners, stairwells, venture into the living room and look under the bed!  Deep cleaning makes the house smell great and look lovely.  It really does make me feel happy and accomplished to know there are fewer dust bunnies nesting in the hallway and Charlotte's great grandchildren have been evicted; however, I usually do something my mother would call, "a lick and a promise."
Thus, I propose close reading might be somewhat like deep cleaning.  It's cleaning all the cobwebs, looking under the bed and even turning the mattress (sigh...that's been a while). mother always said that someday I would take my nose out of a book and see the value of cleaning!      


Boyles, N. (2013) Closing in on close reading. Educational Leadership.
Partnership for
Student Achievement Partners. (2012). Close reading exemplar: Grade 3, "Because of Winn-Dixie." Retrieved from Student Achievement Partners.

Teaching Today

Dr. Curwin, over on Edutopia wrote about the detrimental effects of cynicism; however, he really was reminding us to remember that we make a difference!  Among his suggestions are a few I know I can do:
  • Be a beacon of hope for a hopeless student.
  • Be a beacon of hope for a cynical teacher. 
  • Designing great lessons
  • Helping colleagues

Friday, April 26, 2013

Thursday, April 25, 2013

I make a difference

It started thinking about this when I read,. Then, the NYTimes op-ed (Teachers: Will We Ever Learn? by Jal Mehta) was all over Twitter, so I thought some more (of course teachers should be treated as professionals)!  I read Katherine Sokolowski post  about why she chooses to stay in the classroom and I was re-inspired!  As I talk to colleagues about our preformance plans and our end of the year evaluations, and as I try to compile my own binder and remember "some" of what I did as "proof" of my own effectiveness this year, these posts hit close to my heart and cause me to reflect on my own story!

Here's my story.  I had a grandmother and beloved aunts who loved teaching.  Even if they had abandoned careers to raise families (the norm or the law in those days), they waxed enthusiastically about teaching.  Yet, I wanted to be a doctor and save the world as I was growing up!  I was good at math and loved science, so teachers said, "You should go into science."  Nobody ever suggested teaching.

In one fateful summer before I turned 16, I wanted to do "something" and so encouraged by my guidance counselor, I spent a summer volunteering at Camp Independence, a program funded by the Kennedy's for kids who were usually left out of summer programs. I learned the power of encouragement.  I learned that with great teachers, the human spirit is capable of doing things that IQ and test scores do not show.

I wasn't sure I wanted to give up my dreams of science and medicine when I went off to Syracuse, so I straddled the spectrum during my freshman year. However, in Burton Blatt's Introduction to Special Education class, I found a hero and a direction.  Dr. Blatt was passionate professional who had already "made a difference in this world" when he brought to light the horrors at institutions in the United States.  His book, Exodus from Pandemonium, and his lectures about how teachers could change the world changed my perspective of what teachers might do.  My family did not seem particularly surprised when I said I was going to be a teacher; however, I suspect my dad thought I should be a science or math teacher! 

My first job, was a bit of a fluke as a shortly after my December graduation, a teacher broke her hip and a class needed a warm body fast during a very stressful period of American education now referred to as "the busing era."  I landed in a first grade room and was about 20 seconds ahead of the students most of the time!  In today's APPR era, I would have been considered Developing at best and Ineffective in many ways!  Yet, I was asked back and since that fateful year, my career has wandered through public schools, BOCES and community colleges teaching elementary, middle school, high school, college and special education classes!  I've known language experience, whole language and language based programs.  I've taught with programs, basals, and nothing but a pad of paper.  I've taught in rural, suburban and urban schools. 

My years in public education have been primarily in literacy, a place where my teaching took me during that first year when I was trying to swim as fast as I could!  In theory, I teach kids to read but in practice I also motivate, encourage, counsel and console.  I scaffold writing, share books and write books when I can't find what I need.  I'm not sure I have "saved the world" but I know I have helped quite a few students to become lifelong readers, writers and learners.  I've adapted and changed my teaching as well as reflected and revisited my practices.  I can often be found working on lessons on Friday at 5 and working with students during my "prep."

When I lay on the dirty multipurpose room floor on a Friday afternoon doing yoga with third graders and when I find a way to punish and encourage a reluctant reader simultaneously, I suspect Burton Blatt smiles from above and says, "she has made a difference."  When my evaluation is sent to me in a few weeks, I can only dream of being consdered "highly effective" and hope I will be considered "effective" in my role of elementary literacy specialist.  Yet in the end, I must admit that as long as I am reading, thinking, reflecting, teaching, learning and breathing, I will be "developing"!  In the end, what matters most, is that I make a difference

Sunday, April 21, 2013

NYTimes: The Roots of Standardized Testing Traced to Massacusettes

I read an Op Ed piece from the NY Times that would have made my Dad smile!
The author, William Reese, states some bits of testing history that I must admit I did not know!
The beginnings of the testing go way back to 1837, when Horace Mann became secretary of the State Board of Education in Massachusetts with the goal of making school's accountable.  A few years later, he claimed schools in Prussia were "superior to America’s."  To hold schools more accountable, Mann hired Samuel Gridley Howe to create tests for Boston and suburban schools.  The report that ensued "lambasted the schools" and identify the worst teachers!

As my dad, the avid NY Times Op Ed reader would have said, "If we study history, we won't repeat mistakes!" 

Lucy Calkins seeks ELA feedback

Lucy Calkins and the people at TC are compiling feedback about the ELA given last week.  She's not asking anything specific; rather just tell her what you thought!  It's hard  (impossible) to comment on a secure test we didn't really analyze; however, this might be a way to give feedback about the length, students' behaviors in your school, or your own impressions of this brand new generation of test experience. No matter what, it's a step towards assuring these new and secure tests are valid and reliable estimates of learning.  Check it out 


Saturday, April 20, 2013

Teach Hub: Information, graphics and inspiration

I've been viewing and using bits and pieces from Teach Hub for a while now

I realize National Library Week (April 14-20th) technically ends today; however, this great infographics from Teach Hub (one of my new favorite sites) is pretty neat and the information contained in it is worthy of our reflection as we plan for instruction during the other 51 weeks of the year too!  They said to feel free to share their graphic so I am sharing it here; however, I strongly suggest you visit the source for a better view! 

Teach Hub has great short video clips that I am using to help my students look closely at their environment from the perspective of litter. The video was a powerful discussion starter and led off the mini writing unit. Even if you, like me, didn't really get National Library Week off the ground for your kids, there is always hope for Earth Week resources over at Teach Hub!

While I admit that I find the "slowness" of the site frustrating, when I finally get where I want to go I am always grateful I waited for the site to load! Mostly, I find the site the be a source of ongoing professional development. 

Friday, April 19, 2013

Close Listening and Viewing

After a long week of testing, I was nabbed to do make-up tests this morning. I must admit I was going out of my way to be cheerful and encouraging when I went to pick up the kids who needed a make up. Fortunately, one little girl knew just how to put smiles on all of our faces. After I announced, "I'm the make-up queen," she looked closely at me, smiled and then laughed. "I never thought of you as an expert at make up." She then noted, "I always thought of you as a reading and writing queen."   I cannot predict how that child did with close reading on the ELA, but I know she has close listening and close viewing down pat! 
PS I will visit the local Clinique counter as soon as possible! 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Poem in Your Pocket DayS

This is one of my favorite days of the year.  My students go through my huge folder of poems and I "give" them one for their pocket and a few to give to others.  Last year, I was able to give out lots of people but today's ELA got in the way (rhyming poem intended) and there were far fewer poems delivered.

I did go through the pile of poems with some second graders who fell in love with a "The Purple Cow" and a few third graders who fell in love with Karen Nesbitt's wit.  I did not get to share with all I intended; so, I have decided to make tomorrow Post ELA Poem in Your Pocket Day!

I am including in this 3 poem "gift set" the poem I wanted to give to my grad students but did not have time to copy because of, well you know, it was ELA day today :)
by: Gelett Burgess (1866-1951)

I NEVER saw a Purple Cow,
I never hope to see one;
But I can tell you, anyhow,
I'd rather see than be one

My Lunch
By Karen Nesbitt
A candy bar.
A piece of cake.
A lollipop.
A chocolate shake.

A jelly donut.
Chocolate chips.
Some gummy worms
and licorice whips.

A candy cane.
A lemon drop.
Some bubblegum
and soda pop.

Vanilla wafers.
Cherry punch.
My mom slept in
while I made lunch.
By Naomi Nye

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to mail letters and
purchase bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you every where
like a shadow or a friend.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

#Slice of life 2013 Why? Again?

"Did you hear about Boston?" she questioned as I peered at the computer screen.  The news displaced my anxiety over IEPs, missing printer cartridges, state tests, local assessments, observations, and binders.  There were runners, relatives, friends, families, and children serving as determined runners or waiting to share in their celebration.  The snippets of news available left me with that all to familiar feeling, rattled.  Perhaps, it's the "two degrees of separation" from disaster feeling, but I felt rattled as to how and why such horrors continue to invade our psyche.  Once again, I found myself looking for peace.  Once again, I found hope in written words. 

Tweets of "We're OK, and on our way home," alleviated some personal stresses as did data about finishing times. Yet there were others, people like me, with families, friends, jobs and busy lives who were stopped in their tracks by a senseless act of violence.  I offered prayers of thanksgiving and comfort.  Once again, I found hope in words. 

Stacy@Raisealithuman tweeted this link Over on Facebook, the words of Mr. Rogers that went viral after the Newtown disaster reappeared.  Once again, I found hope in words.

I suspect others are waking up this morning wondering, "Why?" and pondering how another horror can invade our world and psyche, " Again?"  I do not have the anwer to those questions but as the dark side of life turns into the hope of a new day, I am reminded that there is hope in words. 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Fantasy: The Tree With a Heart

Embedded image permalinkRemember the old tree, filled with concrete in the backyard?  Some of my readers were wondering what happened to the stump that ironically had a cross section in the shape of a heart?

Imagine, it's after midnight, the first warm night of the year.  You fell asleep watching a movie and you go to shut the door before you head to bed; however, you hear soft, high pitched laughter in the back!  You head out to investigate but as you get closer, the noise stops.  The next morning, you wonder if it might be the cicadas, you heard it's their year.

Imagine, time passes and after a long day, you're walking home and you again hear the same soft sound, almost like laughter. It's past midnight and you are exhausted, but you quietly, stealthily, tip toe into your backyard and realize that there is a soft glow coming from the stump.  You mention it to someone the next day and they too think it's the cicadas or perhaps, your friend chuckles, tree fairies! 

Imagine, you're out working in the yard and the sun begins to set.  You're quietly finishing up when you hear it again, softly. You see what appears to be a little glow from over near the stump. The glow and the sound seem to be the same ones you have heard before, but it could well be the angle of the sun setting or perhaps you've been out in fresh air too long!  You casually mention it to your neighbor as he stops to say hello.  He laughs aloud, the kind of belly laugh that implies you might be sniffing too much fertilizer and then says, "Perhaps it's the tree decomposing. Hope there's not nuclear waste in there! It'll ruin the value of my house!"  With that he laughs again and leaves you thinking you really have been outside too long! 

Imagine, it's a hot summer evening and you are sitting quietly listening to the sounds in the neighborhood when you hear it again, softly.  You see what might just be a little glow from over near the stump too.   At first, you think it might be the wine, but then you wonder what magic might just be inside your old stump!  You figure you better not mention it to anyone! 

Imagine, time passes, life goes on and the heart-shaped stump continues to do its thing: singing and offering soft light in the darkness.  You have long ago given up trying to determine what might be living in or decomposing inside the tree!  Over many years, the sound quiets and the light dims as your own life becomes filled with new trees, experiences, and sounds.  One day, walking home, you remember the tree stump mystery, realizing you can no longer hear or see the stump and wonder if it is because your own yard and the neighborhood seem to be noisier these days.

Imagine, one day you read about a family of fairies who live in a tree stump.  They had moved into their home after falling in love with a magical heart shaped stump.  Over time, the fairies grew older, had fewer parties, but their home was always filled with love.  Over time, fairy duties waxed and wained as the tooth business is fickle; so in their spare time they invented a game called Fairy Opoly.  You smile as you read and wonder about what the author knows....perhaps you might want to talk to her about this....but perhaps you should just let it be.....she has quite the imagination! 


Saturday, April 13, 2013

Testing, 1,2,3

I read Kate's post the other day. I hear you and agree we seem to have gone a bit overboard on the testing bandwagon.  I wonder about some schools that may have focused on preparing for tests.  In talking to teachers across the tri-state area, there is pressure for kids to do well.  I worry that it may be transferred to kids, even inadvertently! Somtimes, I wonder if some have "sold out" to testing companies.  I worry about the pressure contributes to to "cheating" for scores!

Yet, (in my opinion) I am not sure I am all the way over on Kate's perspective either! While I want to reduce the number of SLOs, LOs, ELAs, MATs, SATs, CATs and other standardized tests that support real estate values more than teaching and learning, there is a place for student and teacher accountability!  We do not work in a vacuum and every student has the right to learn in every classroom.  There is a place for assessments that identify students at risk and those who might have fallen through the proverbial cracks in teaching and learning. There is a need for greater achievement and focus on kids whose language, socio-economic status, frequent moves, and life stresses put them at risk.  There is value in assessment (formative) guided instruction every day in every classroom. 

Yet on the eve of the great testing season for young in our state, there is angst. There is fear of the unknown  There is concern from parents.  There may even be a bit of concern as kids realize desks in rows, teachers with pursed lips and silence in the halls means something!  There are questions from all concerned about the validity and reliability of the tests we are about to take.

 So many questions. So few answers. So many hoping our children will have a weekend filled with playing outside, soccer, baseball and birthday parties.  So many prayers that we will all find ways to put smiles on their faces, assure kids they just need to do their best and believe that this will someday feel less stressful to all parties.     

Science is next!

I've been thinking about this NY Times article:

A few bullets from the article:
  • Next Generation Science Standards were developed by 26 state governments
  • States are not required to adopt them
  • Evolutions and climate change must be taught
  • The focus would be helping students become more intelligent science consumers
  • Biology and chemistry may disappear entirely from high schools, replaced by holistic courses

I sure hope there are teachers, those who have studied and thought about teaching and learning, helping to develop these standards! 




Friday, April 12, 2013

Fantasy Writing: Reposting

This was originally published 2 years ago, but it's good enough to share again!  I will, however, write another fanatasy story about the tree filled with concrete this weekend.  Stay tuned! 

I want to share an experience I had LAST Sunday with my husband while hiking in Duchess County. This is a beautiful time of year to hike; however, few people hike the mountain trails along the Hudson Highlands during the winter due to the rough terrain and extreme winds that blow along the ridge.
Frankly I was hesitant to go hiking in that area on Sunday as I expected the run off to be significant and knew that there might even be some snow at the top. No matter what, we would probably be the first people to hike that trail in months and so the hike would be challenging and the markers might be missing. I had suggested a kinder and gentler hike across the old railroad bridge; however, the my husband had a burning desire to do something more challenging and so I reluctantly agreed!

We were indeed the first people up the mountain in many months but the quiet beauty of the trail that parallels the Hudson River mesmerized us as we slowly made the arduous climb up the the top of Mount Beacon. It got colder and colder as we climbed and the wind became stronger and stronger making some places on the ridge beyond scary. At times, my heart was beating so fast, I thought I might not even make it all the way to the top. It was a long and arduous climb and as we neared the top, I knew we would BOTH need to rest before starting the climb back down. We were, however, both too exhausted to even speak at that point on the trail as so I just hoped that we would be able to find a quiet spot out of the wind in which to rest.

There was still quiet a bit of snow when we reached the top and the wind was indeed howling, but we surveyed the majestic views while holding tightly to the sides of the remaining walls of the old hotel and casino at the top.

As some of you might know, there was an incline railway built to the top of Mt Beacon in the early 1900's and it transported people (in a much easier manner) to the top of the mountain where a small hotel and casino with panoramic views of the Hudson Valley awaited them. The hotel and casino were abandoned at least 80 years ago after a fire swept through them in "breakneck" speed with obviously devastating results to all who were there at the time.

I was indeed thinking of those people as we crouched down in the remains and quickly devoured the dried blueberries and almonds I had in my backpack. We were careful to not drink all the water as we would, at some point, need some to get back down the treacherous hill; however, we did joke that we SHOULD have brought some fabulous mixed drink from the Roaring Twenties with us to celebrate our victorious climb! We decided we should do some reserach to find out what they were drinking at Mt. Beacon a hundred years ago! Anyway, as we rested before our inevitable descent, we continued talking and wondering and THEN, something very strange happened.

At first I THOUGHT it was the wind but indeed it did sound like laughter and maybe even some music. There were moans and groans but also the clinking sound of glass and the sound of someone talking in the distance. I looked at my husband who had shut his eyes and was even snoring softly. I was panicked but curious at the same time and so I shifted my weight so that I could look around the corner of the old brick wall. There was NO ONE there; however, the noises I heard really were NOT the WIND!

I lay there for a LONG time listening to the sounds and wondering if indeed these were the ghosts of the victims of the fire. I was scared out of my mind that we too might die on the top of this mountain as a cloud blew over briefly blocking the sun; however, my hsuband insisted on a powernap before his descent and so I lay and listened to the sounds of Mt. Beacon. At one point, I too drifted off in a powernap but I awoke to what certainly sounded like a motor and I was BRIEFLY certain it sounded like the old tramway motor! But then, as I came too, I realized the sky was getting darker by the minute and the wind was blowing snow and ice pellets down upon us and so I shook my husband awake and insisted we get down the mountain.

The first part of the climb was very tough and so we did not talk for at least 45 minutes....but then I said something about my dream during my powernap...and Ray wanted to know more.

Slowly the story emerged that we had BOTH heard the same strange sounds and had BOTH wanted to know more. He thought it was indeed the ghosts of the victims of the fire and not the wind; however, I tried to be very rational about the whole afternoon. We were literaly shaking with fear, excitement and wonder as we reached the safe bottom of the mountain that afternoon, particularly as we saw a lone hiker preparing for his ascent of the mountain. He asked about the climb and noted that he usually tried to get up in late March but with the weather....well it was already April. Although the sun was shining and it was LOVELY at the bottom of the mountain, we did offer that it was cold, windy and snowing at the top.

He smiled and said something about the magic of getting to the mountain in early spring - and something about connecting with long past relatives - but in a flash he was gone and we were left to wonder if indeed there was something magical or mystical going on at the top of that mountain over the long winter.
We'll probably never know for sure if what we heard that afternoon was a figment of our imagination or long lost ghosts; but Ray and I have settled into a quiet acceptance of an unusual afternoon and we DO intend to go back with some snacks that might go more appropiately in that setting!

Picture taken with my phone from atop Mt. Beacon looking out over the Hudson River

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Professional Development: The Destination

Long ago, I read professional journals for about 15 minutes with my coffee before I got the family going for the day.  These days, as I have noted before, I allow myself 1-2 short professional reads usually linked from my Twitter feed before I get on the virtual (and then theoretical) treadmills of my day!  This morning, my Twitter feed took me over to Edutopia!

Elena Aguilar talks about the challenges of and models for professional growth summarizing the "effective ingredients" as "The Destination" and the direction of how to get there as "The Road Map."  In the article Aguilar writes, "We now have very clear descriptions of which skills we're trying to build. We have a focus. And by staying focused and having clear goals, teachers are making fast growth." 

I smiled as I finished the article, noting to myself that adult learners learn best when the professional developers have a focus and clear goals!  While it sure sounds like this SHOULD be obvious, it SURE needs to be stated!  Thanks! 

PS If you are a PD person, an administrator, a team leader or you care about your school, check out Aguilar's book , The Art of Coaching: Effective Strategies for School Transformation (1)

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Reading Workshops: Strategy Groups

Andrea at!/2012/03/guided-reading-vs-strategy-group.html  posted a great article about strategy groups a while ago.  The grahpic organizer below is a sample or "tease" to get you over to the "feature article" on her site!  It really is a great graphic depicting the differences between guided reading groups and strategy groups. 

Guided Reading Group
Strategy Group
Teacher acts like a coach on game day, first setting the group up for the game to come, and then offering words of advice from the sidelines as the players tackle the job of reading the text beginning to end.
Teacher acts like a coach during a practice, stating a discreet skill she notices the group needs to work on, teaching it, modeling it, then allowing time for practice of that skill.
Teacher is like a safety net under a tightrope walker. She stays with student from the beginning to the end of the experience and coaches the whole time.
Teacher teaches just one skill in isolation to tightrope walker and student practices it again and again until that one skill is mastered.
Teacher supports and guides students through an entire text, and in this way, teaches them the types of problems they might encounter in a text on this level.
Teacher explicitly teaches one skill, models the skill with her own book, then coaches children through practicing the skill on their own books.
Readers are on the same reading level.
Readers are usually on different reading levels.
Readers read from the same text, chosen by the teacher because it is on the group’s instructional level.
Readers practice the new skill on a text at their own level (usually from their book box, sometimes supplied by the teacher).
Readers may learn several strategies in one meeting.
Readers focus on only one strategy per meeting.
Groups are formed as a result of some type of teacher benchmarking that indicates the approximate reading level of every student.
Groups are formed as a result of teacher observation and notes ~ usually during one on one reading conferences or during other small group meetings.
Once a group is formed, it stays together for several meetings until it’s determined that one or more children are ready to move to a different level. The younger the reader, the more levels they move through per year. By 4th and 5th grade, guided reading groups will only change 2 or 3 times in year.
Groups are formed to address a strategy need, and once that need is fulfilled (usually 1-3 meetings) that exact group does not meet again for the same purpose. Teacher reforms groups based on new strategies.
Guided reading groups are helpful when students are just being pushed up to a new level. Through GR, they can learn all the new text features and possible pitfalls they might encounter on texts of a new level.
Strategy groups are helpful once students are established in their reading level (but not yet ready to move onto the next) and collecting strategies to add to their reader’s toolbox.

Slice of Spring

On his way to work, my husband saw this sign; however he has not (yet) joined the TWT SOL group so he sends it to me..noting it was a Slice of his Life! 

Monday, April 8, 2013

#Slice of Life 2013 Life: With Sprinkles

Sprinkles, atop a cone,
Perfect ending,
The day made sweeter.

Smiles, hugs, nods,
Acts of kindness, great effort.

Spoken, written, shared words,
Hard work, achievments.

Flowers on the table,
Shared meals are special.

Poems in your heart,
Hopes, dreams
Every word important.

Add color,
Stimulate our senses,
Renew, refresh, encourage

Add zest! 


Sunday, April 7, 2013

Planting Seeds and Watching Them Grow

As I was reading "my blogs"this morning, I was thinking, reflecting and pondering my own teaching.  I am in the "busy" and not always fun season of teaching these days and sometimes, I do not feel like I give any of my "students" all I could.  Yet, when I reflect, I remember that I do not GIVE them anything; rather, we plant seeds and share strategies, watching, learning, guiding.  We do not know it all - NONE of us; yet those of us who watch and learn from children are among the wisest of all.
I remember why I teach when I read what my students write.  This one is from Ms. Diller, WOW!
Reflections from today's writing lesson...Did you know
that your students
know more than you?
Did you know
that you will never
know everything?
Did you know
that by thinking you're
the smartest person in the room
you are cheating yourself
and them?
Did you know
that you can learn
more in one lesson from them
than in any professional development course?
Did you know?

Saturday, April 6, 2013

We've been to the zoo, zoo, zoo

Photo: If you park near the beloved sea lions you see them first!

Well the seals in the pool all honk-honk-honkin’
Catchin’ the fish and honk-honk-honkin’
Little tiny seals all honk-honk-honkin’
And we can stay all day!

Well we stayed all day and I’m gettin’ sleepy
Sittin’ in the car gettin’ sleep sleep sleepy
Home already gettin’ sleep sleep sleepy
’cause we have stayed all day.

We been to the zoo zoo zoo
So have you you you
You came too too too
We been to the zoo zoo zoo
I am sure Peter, Paul and Mary
Stood here, too
On a sunny spring afternoon. 

Please Say It Isn't So! (Test Prep Classes for Elementary Kids)

I did NOT send my kids to Kaplan,
Yet, I did encourage sleep before high stakes tests
(I'm still hearing about the missed Knicks game)
I did not rant about the implication of scores,
Yet, I made them breakfast,
Reminded them of strategies.
I do not focus teaching to tests,
Yet, I do prepare students
Testing formats, strategies,
How to make good guesses,
What it feels like to not know an answer,
To persevere.
We learn to read by reading
Comprehend through discussion
We learn to write by writing
Craft through texts
Stamina through practice, praise
Strategies through our mentors.
Sorry Kaplan,
We do not need elementary test prep courses
Our kids will learn the formats,
Risk-taking, confidence
Our kids need focus on
Learning, living, and playing
After school, on weekends.

Friday, April 5, 2013

National Writing Project Blog Share

Apps: Suggestions from Scholastic

Fifty percemt of the Apps below are ones I already loved, so I could not wait to try the other two...and I was not disappointed.  Scholastic is a pretty good filter!  Thank you, Scholastic! 

This Scholastic e-reader app is designed for kids. Books are embedded with questions, learning activities, and pop-up dictionary definitions. iOS and Android. 5 books are Free.

Super Duper StoryMaker
Students craft their stories using text, images, photos, sounds, and drawings. Stories can be saved, printed out, and e-mailed to friends. iOS. $4.99.

Super Why!
For beginners, this program addresses rhyming words, letter identification, spelling, word building, and sentence completion. iOS and Android. $2.99.

Grammar Jammers
Fun grammar app - leveled  Primary, Elementary, and Middle.  iOS. $2.99 (primary edition is free).

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Mrs. Mimi Appears on Reading Today

I'm pretty sure I have never met Mrs. Mimi; however, I  think I would love to have dinner with her or even to stand in line with her for half price tickets (you really get to know people like that). I am pretty sure I like her - a whole lot!  Like other technologically savy educational nerds, I was reading Reading Today the other day (on the treadmill) when I say her article. In my effort to assure I did not lose the article, I linked it to Facebook, liked it to Twitter and pinned it to Pinterest.  That's a sign of my level of embrace!
 I laughed out loud when she said that "everything can be related to teaching"  Then she said, "The truth is, working with students in small settings (such as the one-on-one conference or a small group) is what makes the biggest difference in a child’s learning."   I suspect some of my grad students have heard similar words emerge from my lips!  Perhaps you will believe me now! 


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Reading Workshop: The Guided Reading Part

The question, "How should Guided Reading Groups really look?" left me thinking long after conversation had ended! While I certainly have ideas in my head derived from reading, watching video clips, and being in classrooms, I suspect sharing resources and ideas about all the aspects of reading (and writing) workshops would be worthy of "featuring" on my blog over the coming weeks.

Guided Reading is not a new idea, that is for sure, and it does not and should not look the same in every grade level: however, understanding a theoretical framework and practical aspects is key to providing differentiated guided practice for students.

Lucy Calkins describes Guided Reading as a way you can take small groups of readers on journeys to talk, think and question the reading process.

  • Small flexible groups (4-6 students)
  • Clear focus - set purpose for lesson
  • Teacher select short texts
  • Similar reading levels
  •  Work in Zone of Proximal Development (Vygotsky)

  • One of the best looks into the windows of an effective reading workshop classroom can be found over at Jennifer Meacham's site.

    There is a wonderful video of guided reading on this site along with a zillion reading workshop ideas and suggestions.

    Lots of resources here:

    Lots of great vidoes here for those of us who are visual learners
    My chart here:
    Traditional Reading GroupsGuided Reading Groups
    Groups remain the same for long periods of time.Groups are flexible and change based on students' needs
    A specific sequence of stories and skills as in basal readers.Short stories and texts; no specific sequence.
    New vocabulary taught before reading. Focus on learning vocabulary through context.
    Worksheets, questions follow reading.Skills practice is part of discussion and guided practice.
    Focus is on the lesson.Focus is on the student.
    Teacher often follows a guide.Many texts chosen based on content or format.
    Questions are often factual.Questions focus on thinking skills and strategic reading.
    Students take turn reading orally (round robin style) Every student reads the entire text; it may be broken into sections to facilitate learning.
    Focus on fluent reading with good expression and phrasing. Focus on guided comprehension and practicing reading strategies.
    Everyone reads aloud while others listen. Reading aloud comes only after silently reading a text and is used to clarify meaning or "prove" answers.
    Fluency during the first reading is the goal. Readers theater, rereading and shared reading are used to build fluency.
    Follow up worksheets and comprehension questions are common. Readers' responses can include questions but typically focus on the strategy presented in the mini lesson.
    Unit tests, book tests. Ongoing assessments such as running records and anecdotal notes.